A common misconception among people seeking a translation in a specialized field such as medicine is that any translator can do the job. After all, the reasoning goes, translators understand both languages they are dealing with, so isn’t translation just the process of converting a text from one language to another? How hard can it be?

In this post, we will take a look at some of the complexities surrounding medical translation, and the reasons why hiring a professional medical translation company is truly the only logical choice when obtaining a translation of medical documents of any nature.

One issue is that translation is not simply an exercise in exchanging one word for another. If it were, a computer could do it with ease, and there would be no need for human translators at all. In a specialized and precise field such as medicine, this approach would be particularly ineffective for many reasons, including the following:

  • Medical professionals tend to write in a specific kind of shorthand that can sometimes be almost impossible for an inexperienced reader to follow; this needs to be understood and reproduced in the target language as accurately as possible
  • Some medical terminology can vary in meaning from field to field, and a computer or a person without a medical education might not understand the usage based on the context of the document
  • Common words can mean something different in a medical context than they do in common, conversational usage
  • Some medical texts contain long, meandering sentences that are difficult for even educated humans to wade through

Due to the fact that there are so many different specializations within the field of medicine, even experienced medical translators may have to do some research to ensure that they are understanding the terminology of a text correctly and accurately translating it into the target language. Take this study name, for example: “Randomized Global Phase 3 Study to Evaluate the Impact on NASH with Fibrosis of Obeticholic Acid Treatment (REGENERATE)”1. It is unlikely that many people who are not actively practicing hepatology (treatment of the liver) would know about the REGENERATE Study without looking it up. The decoding of the acronym “NASH” as “Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis” without the use of reference materials would pose problems for a smaller but still significant subset of individuals, some of whom might even just leave the acronym as is in the translation without doing the necessary digging to discover the appropriate equivalent in the target language. This could lead to confusion for the end user. However, qualified medical translators will know which resources to use to find the necessary information; they will understand that information once it is found, and they will be able to figure out how best to go about providing an accurate equivalent in the target language.

A good deal goes into that accurate equivalent as well. A medical translator must be capable of producing appropriate medical terminology in the target language. Moreover, many medical documents – particularly those containing complex patient intake forms or labeled images – require extensive formatting work in order to make the translated document look like the original and prevent confusion. A translation company with solid experience working with medical translations will be able to work with the translator to create an end product that is accurate in both form and content.

At a reputable medical translation agency, care is taken to review a medical translator’s work for possible factual errors or typos. A second, equally qualified medical translator who knows both the source and the target language will painstakingly examine the translator’s work to ensure that all meaning is retained and conveyed accurately and appropriately. Once this step is complete, a proofreader will look over the document again to check for any mistakes in grammar, punctuation, etc., the translator and reviewer might have missed, and to make sure that the translated document looks as similar to the original as possible. Finally, a member of the quality control staff will review all these components together for one final check before the translation is turned over to the client.

Some agencies will provide flexible rates that allow clients to select less than a full complement of the above mentioned review processes for a reduced fee. While this can be an economical choice for some projects in other subject areas, it is highly recommended that the full process be used for medical translations, as the life and health of the client or another user may depend on it.

So how would you go about determining whether a translation agency is a reputable, qualified provider of medical translations? Ask your language service provider about the qualifications held by the medical translators on their staff. How were they trained? How long have they been in the business? Answers to questions about the company’s reviewing and QC practices may also help you decide whether a given medical translation service is right for you. Client reviews may also be helpful in this regard. Finally, take a look at the company’s client list. If big-name medical and pharmaceutical institutions have used the agency and permit its marketing department to use their names in its promotional material, there is a good chance that that agency will serve your medical translation needs well.

Visit Apex’s life sciences page for a look at the medical translation services we have to offer. Or click here to talk to us in person about your medical translation needs and receive a free quote.

1 Sourced from clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02548351